Migrant-childhoods: finding permanence in children's homes in Braamfontein

Michaels, Talya
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
South Africa is currently facing a crisis of migrant childhoods caused by fractured households. The everyday lives of traveling children lay bare many of the breakdowns in our society. The first is the informal absorption of orphans into communities rather than a functional institutional system. The second is the normalisation of a migrant labour force that leaves children void of parents in their everyday lives. This loss of domestic permanence leads to children functioning in survival mode and moving through life in a state of household disequilibrium. As parents become migrant workers, children are forced to experience migrant childhoods. This project recognises the architecture of a children’s home as a means for providing a safe haven for children under the age of eighteen who have been affected by a broken momentum in their childhood, necessitating their leaving home involuntarily. The acknowledgment that these children need to be resettled, exposes the fact that temporality is a condition of living in a children’s home, since the duration of their stay there is not defined. How best are architects to design spaces for children who are constantly having to move and regularly have to envision a new environment to call home? The building must offer a sense of place, must embody a feeling of long-standing permanency even in the continual presence of change, and must become a haven within a safe, structured environment that fosters independence and autonomy within the unknown. I propose to explore modern childcare manifestos as guidance for re-imagining an institutional children’s home. I will examine Montessori methods in depth, and will consider the benefits of sensory spaces in reaching developmental goals. I will question the limitations of institutional design and the consequences of living within a utilitarian orphanage. I conclude that architecture may supplement the kind of care children require from a primary caregiver, exploring notions of sensory space, light, scale and play-scaping amongst other architectural solutions.
A dissertation submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture (Professional) to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, 2023